Her, alone

She drove until she reached the forest, camped there for the night, and drove on to the next. It had been a week-long journey with no defined end. Teary-eyed and broken-hearted, she made the spontaneous decision to travel by car until she couldn’t remember his name. Or at least until it didn’t hurt to think about his bright blue eyes and his contagious smile.

She inhaled sharply as she merged into the right lane on the vast and ever lonely stretch of highway. She had just passed the only car she’d seen in the last five hours and the weight of her reality had been pulling her deeper and deeper into a pit of sadness, like a ton of bricks on her barely beating heart.

When she decided on this trip, she didn’t realize how depressing it would be. Traveling alone is clearly lonely, but she realized this just too late. It should have been obvious beforehand. Any sane person would’ve known traveling alone is as lonely as it gets. But she wasn’t sane. She was a grand mess- hair askew, nail polish chipping, the same shirt she’d been wearing since he told her he found someone new. She couldn’t bring herself to buy new clothes.

Work called her yesterday when she didn’t show up for her shift. She had a long talk with her boss about love and life and to make sure to keep them up to date on when she’s coming back. She was fortunate enough to have a job she could leave and come back to as she pleased. She was also fortunate enough to have the money saved up to go on an indefinite endeavor across the country.

None of that mattered, though, because the whole time she was miserable. She wanted to go home, but couldn’t bring herself to head that way. A part of her wanted to live out here. She was in the forests of Washington, thousands of miles from home. All she had were the clothes on her back and her water bottle, but the thought of stopping at home to collect her things- where her now-ex-boyfriend also lives- made her nauseous. She thought a lot about just how hard it would be to transfer to the Seattle brand, get an apartment, new clothes, furniture.

She found herself surveying houses in the suburbs. This one’s too small, that one’s got no driveway, this one would be nice. Oh, and an open house. It won’t hurt to go in. I can say I’m thinking of moving out here from Massachusetts. It’s true and doesn’t invite too many questions I can’t answer. Oh, and it’s cheap, too. I could afford this if I transferred to the Seattle branch. I should call my boss….

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Summer of running away

Echoes of gas stations,

shitty coffee,

sunken eyes and unkempt hair

swarm my mind

as I drive down a desolate road

in the dead of winter.

My coffee, hot as all hell,

stains my shirt and burns my throat.

I was homesick

for an imaginary place.

I had been searching for my home

but nothing stuck,

nothing but loneliness, empty roads

and the taste of burnt coffee grounds-

maybe that’s my home now.

At least they can’t break my heart.

a nihilistic view on people: Shan’s story

People are good. But people are selfish. They want to help others, they want to do the right thing, but only for their own selfish reasons. Whether they believe in karma or they just want someone to owe them one, people don’t genuinely care about each other. Now, a disclaimer: this is a broad generalization. I know that. And it’s my opinion. I know that, too. Feel free to disagree, I’m just saying how I’ve perceived people for the last 26 years. 

I prefer to people watch. It’s easier on my heart. I know what love feels like and I know what heart break is, I’m fine living the rest of my life never feeling either. Now, I know what you’re thinking: but Shan, what’s the point of life if not to feel? If not to see someone you love’s car drive up your driveway and barely make out their smile from the front seat as they turn their car off, collect their things, and amble on into your house? Is the whole reason we exist as humans not to feel? To love? To hurt?

My counterpoint: you don’t need other people to feel love. Or pain. Or any fleeting emotion you so desperately crave. All you need to feel is an open road, a full tank of gas, and a playlist of your favorite songs. The right song can make you fall in love ten times in those two and a half minutes. An empty road at dusk in the middle of the summer, windows down, the sun setting in front of you, hair blowing through the wind as your arm drapes down, out the window- that’s what I live for. If I could propose to the feeling that gives me, I would. Believe me. 

I have friends, I know that’s hypocritical and makes what I said kind of shitty, but they’re the same way. We drift in and out of each other’s lives, it’s kind of funny. We drive. That’s what we do. We drive anywhere our hearts desire. And once in a while, we’ll be in the same place at the same time and we’ll reconnect. Have a few beers. Share a few new tunes. Give each other tattoos to commemorate the feeling. 

That’s how we make money. That’s how I can manage travelling across the States, a new county every day. I wouldn’t call myself famous, but if you’re in the tattoo-scene, you follow me on Instagram. That sounds douche-y, but it’s hard not to say “hey, I have thousands of followers and dozens of them send me money for my services every day” without sounding incredibly douche-y. 

I have a route that I follow. It’s not like I just go wherever. Well, route is a bad word for it. It’s more of a road-trip. A never-ending road-trip. Where I get paid at each stop. I’m an artist. I’ve been called pretentious by people who’ve asked the wrong questions at appointments, but I don’t care. I’m a nihilist. It’s not deep. I tattoo, and I drive. If you take anything away from this, it should be that. 

My car isn’t anything special. I gave it a new stereo, that’s about it. It’s reliable and comfortable. It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It fits me and my equipment. A comfortable two-seater with a trunk just big enough for the essentials. I travel alone. No one else has been in my car since Julie. 

I won’t lie to you. That’s a big part of my beliefs. Lying is pointless. People lie when they’re ashamed. I don’t feel shame. 

So, on the topic of truth-telling, I’ll tell you who Julie is. Well, was. 

Julie was my girlfriend. We were going to get married, she proposed back when gay marriage was legalized nationally. We were engaged for a year before it happened. She used to sit in the seat right next to me, queueing up songs on my phone for our long trips between tattoo parlors. She was larger than life. I’d never met someone who made everyone love them so easily like Julie. All she had to do was smile at them and they’d fall victim like I did so many years ago. She was a metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel. A happy ending. I’d been so depressed before I met her. Then one day she asked for a tattoo and I fell. It was as though any pain I felt disappeared. I laughed later on, after we had been dating for a month, about how as I was tattooing her that first day we met, I was causing her pain, and little did I know she’d soon take all mine away. Blue skies and open roads for four years.

But with every positive feeling comes an equal negative one. And it made so much fucking sense to me, how could I not see that if someone could make you feel so good, they can take that all away in the blink of an eye, the turn of a wheel? 

I don’t blame her for what happened. It wasn’t her fault. I shouldn’t have let her drive. We should’ve called a Lyft and gotten the car in the morning. I never even got my things from that hotel room, either. I couldn’t bring myself to go back after the accident. I called the hotel. Told them I’d be checking out early. Didn’t even wait for an answer. 

If you’re thinking her death was the reason I’m a nihilist, you’d be wrong. I was a nihilist before I met Julie, she just took that part of me away while we were together. She was like a cold ice pack resting on your forehead as you feel your pulse thumping at your temples. She soothed me in a way no one ever could. I didn’t think it was possible to feel that kind of relief, but she knew all the right words to make any bad feeling go away. 

When the doctors told me she wasn’t going to make it, I laughed- of all things. What else would it be? I thought bitterly. Happy endings are just stories that haven’t ended yet. This story ended with an ambulance and flooded comments for weeks. Hardly any of my DM’s the weeks to follow were about appointments, they were all about Julie. She wasn’t a tattoo artist, but she was the fiancé of one that tagged along to all her appointments. And she lit up any room she was in. People knew her name. People knew her face. They knew her aura. Of course, they asked about her afterwards. They felt bad. Not for me or for our families. For themselves. People felt bad because they would never see Julie again. Someone they’d only met once or twice. 

That’s the reason I’m a nihilist. Like I said, people are selfish. It makes me bitter. They only care so they can score points to redeem later on something they want They suck-up to me because they think it’ll get them a discount. It doesn’t. I have bills to pay just like everyone. I live in hotel rooms. It gets expensive. 

Someday, I’ll settle down, get a house, a dog, maybe stick to one tattoo parlor. That day isn’t today. When things get tough, I turn to the road. I turn up my music. And I drown out the bad. As I drive down an unfamiliar road, 7 pm, mid-July, after a long shift, I ask myself: why? I’ve been on so many goddamn roads, why do they all remind me of her? 

The Grand Canyon (Part 2)

Our friend came out to us last night,

in an emotional speech surrounded by loved ones.

We were still on the road,

now in Nebraska.

She FaceTimed us and told us she was trans.

She had her friends over,

the moment felt right.

I wished I could’ve hugged her.

You and I talked about gender and sexuality for a while

well after the call ended.

I learned you once contemplated not being cis.

I did too, back in high school.

I told you I loved that we were still learning about each other.

You smiled and agreed.

We were on the road,

on a street we’d never seen,

in a car you only bought a month ago,

but I couldn’t have felt more at home.

Grand Canyon (Part 1) a road trip we’d never forget

I didn’t eat breakfast.

You tell me, climbing into my car.

Don’t worry,

I respond,

We can stop at Dunkin’.

You smile.

It’s still early,

The sun hasn’t yet risen.

We’re early, too,

We could stop at the beach,

And watch the sunrise.

First, you need breakfast.

I pull into the drive-thru,

I order you a sandwich,

You don’t have to tell me what you want,

I know what you always get.

I order us both coffees, too.

We’re going to need it today.

 

We’ve got a long day ahead of us,

First you have the dentist,

Then I have therapy.

Then, we’re driving across the country.

We’ve saved money,

Calculated the hours it’ll take-

37, with no traffic.

We packed our bags,

Got the time off work,

Found a place to stay.

We’re staying with my friend,

He lives a half hour from the Grand Canyon,

And we’ve always wanted to visit.

He moved to Arizona two years ago,

We’ve hardly seen him since,

Never to visit him,

He’s only come back up to the northeast.

He introduced us to each other,

So we owe him this trip.

 

I’ve known him since high school,

You two met through mutual friends.

I was surprised we had never met,

We frequented a lot of the same places.

When he introduced me to you,

I knew right then.

 

We met a week before our friend moved away.

For a while that was all we talked about.

That grew into how we met our friend,

Which grew into discussions of high school and college,

Which turned into stories of high school and college,

Which turned into our hobbies,

Of which we had many in common,

Which turned into me showing you my favorite show,

Then you showed me yours,

And two years later,

We’re on a road trip to celebrate our anniversary.

 

I paid for our breakfast,

And drove us to the beach.

I made sure to go to one that faces the sunrise.

I’ve made that mistake before.

We ate our breakfast

while our favorite songs played through the speakers.

I was reminded of past dates,

Sitting in this exact spot,

Eating take-out and laughing at each other’s jokes.

I smiled blissfully at the thought,

knowing fully there were more of those moments to come.